Capital's Haven for Westerners Was an Easy Mark for Terrorists

The Radisson Hotel in Mali\'s capital is exactly the kind of establishment that should make a visitor nervous.

Published: 21st November 2015 08:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st November 2015 08:25 AM   |  A+A-

The Radisson Hotel in Mali's capital is exactly the kind of establishment that should make a visitor nervous.

On the surface, there is nothing to distinguish its interior from any other international hotel, but if you happen to want to kill Westerners, the Radisson is one of only a handful of places in Bamako where your targets will always be present.

Aid workers, diplomats and United Nations officials - not to mention Air France flight crews - all stay there. When I was a guest in 2013, the hotel was considered safe enough for the UN to use for meetings and events. The Radisson exists in a country where al-Qaeda and its allies controlled two thirds of its territory until France intervened in 2013. That operation broke al-Qaeda's grip on northern Mali and liberated more than a million people from their rule.

But it did not end the terrorist threat. Like their counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and its allies in Mali went underground, mastering the black arts of suicide bombing, improvised explosive devices and machine-gunning the innocent.

From their stronghold in northern Mali, they infiltrated Bamako in the south. The assault on the Radisson was preceded by a series of incidents in the capital, notably in March when hand grenades were thrown inside a bar, killing five people.

Other factors explain the Radisson's vulnerability. Unlike similar hotels in Bamako, it overlooks a street, and the entrance is positioned yards from the road. One eyewitness said the attackers arrived in a vehicle with diplomatic licence plates.

Al-Qaeda and those inspired by its ideology have a long history of attacking international hotels. Because they look and feel familiar, these are the establishments where Westerners often feel safe. As events in Mali have shown once again, that sense of security is often illusory.

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